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March 13, 2023

Denny Hamlin on late-race contact with Ross Chastain: ‘It wasn’t a mistake’

Denny Hamlin said Monday that he made intentional late-race contact with rival Ross Chastain during Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series event, saying that he felt the timing was right for a measure of revenge at Phoenix Raceway.

“It wasn’t a mistake,” Hamlin said. “I let the wheel go, and I said, ‘He’s coming with me.’ “

Hamlin’s No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was lined up in sixth place for a final restart as Sunday’s United Rentals Work United 500 went into overtime, but the car pushed high heading into Turn 1 on the next-to-last lap. Struggling to get his car to turn and faced with a mediocre finish, Hamlin said he opted to take Chastain’s No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet — fifth at the restart point — up into the retaining wall with him.

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“I got to the end of the race. I saw that he was on the outside of me. I went into Turn 1 with the mindset that I’m going to try to get the best finish that I can get,” Hamlin said on his Actions Detrimental podcast hosted by Dirty Mo Media, explaining that he didn’t want to collect any of his other competitors. ” I’m on two tires and I go into Turn 1, and while I even went in shallow on speed, my car plowed. What it means is that I turned the wheel and the front tires were going straight and they were calling the 1 car (of Chastain) on the outside. At that point, I knew that I was screwed. I was about to go backward. I had all the four-tire cars on my ass. They were going to pass me more than likely in the next corner. I know I had two fresh-tire cars underneath of me anyways. I was four-wide. I’m like ‘I’m going straight to the back.’ My crew chief told me there were 18 cars on the lead lap, and at that point, I’m probably running sixth or seventh and I’m about to get passed by everybody behind me whose on fresh tires. I’m about to finish in the mid-teens and I said ‘you’re coming with me buddy.’ “

Hamlin finished 23rd, one position ahead of Chastain in the 36-car field. The two have had a history of run-ins that escalated last season, with Hamlin being on the receiving end for much of the conflict.

Hamlin said that tally of incidents factored into his decision.

“I’ve said it, and I think that Ross doesn’t like it when I speak his name in the media and when I have this microphone,” Hamlin said, “but I told him, ‘Well, I have a microphone, and I’m going to call it like I see it and until you get a microphone, you can then say whatever you want about me.’ But the fact is, while I’m sitting here talking, I’m going to call things the way I see it, and sometimes I’ve got to call myself out, which I’m the dumbass who lost just as many spots as he did. But at the time, I said, well, I’m going to finish [expletive] anyway, and I’m just going to make sure that he finishes [expletive] right here with me.”

Hamlin referenced his most recent incident with Chastain during the preseason Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum in Los Angeles, a collision that sent Hamlin’s No. 11 entry looping in the exhibition event. He also said he spoke with Chastain after Sunday’s race at Phoenix, saying he hoped to be able to put their hostilities aside.

“When he knows it’s coming, he is the hardest guy to wreck on the planet,” Hamlin said. “But I just, I wanted to to get back to racing honestly with him, and I think that that’s a lot of the conversation that we had after. … He came up to me, and he says, ‘I guess I deserve it.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I think so.’ I’m not gonna sit here on this podcast and ever lie to you guys and say, ‘Well, this is an accident,’ when it’s not. It wasn’t an accident. I meant to put them in the fence, but I didn’t mean to screw my team in the process. ….But at the time when you’re seeing red, that’s all that really matters. I just saw an opportunity to not involve anyone else, I was about to go to the back and I wanted to take him with me. So we talked, and I think that we are in a better place where I think we’re willing to put the past behind us, and I think that we’re going to judge each other from this point forward, and I think that’s the fairest way to do it.”